Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - W Notebook: Nice and Smooth Edition
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W Notebook: Nice and Smooth Edition 06/24/2009 - 8:04 AM

Fs The tabs are unanimous: It hasn't been a good week for British tennis. Well, they aren't quite unanimous. The Mirror calls Tuesday at Wimbledon, after which only two of the original 11 U.K. players in the draws were still standing, a "day of shame." The Mail sees it differently. They dub it "The Day of Carnage." The Express goes for something less poetic: "What a Bunch of Losers." Surprisingly, it’s the Times that is most outraged of all. "LTA Must Take Blame for the Procession of Hollow-Eyed British Losers," is the headline to lead tennis correspondent Neil Harman's column. 

Wait, I take that back. The Sun is the angriest. They can barely speak. The paper hangs its head on the back page and sends this simple and damning message to all of the country's tennis players: 

"Shame on You."

You begin to wonder why anyone tries to play this sport over here. In fact, British pro Dan Evans, who lost to Nikolay Davydenko, is wondering that himself. Afterward, he speculated that he might soon quit the sport and start "stacking shelves" at a grocery chain. Of course, the Sun doesn't like that much either, titling its article on Evans, "Loser Dan Looks Forward to Life as Tesco Shelf Stacker." The Mirror, blessedly, mixes it up by going after a different Brit, the long-suffering Alex "Duffer Bogg" Bogdanovich, who also went down in straight sets yesterday for his eighth straight first-round defeat at Wimbledon: "Serial Loser Alex is Simply the Worst as Brits Gets Battered."

I think you get the picture: Losing seems to be a theme here, an unspoken, unconscious truth waiting to be screamed at the first possible moment. But the tabs have more to offer today. Here are a few of their nuggets.

—There's a match-fixing investigation underway concerning the first-rounder between Jurgen Melzer and Wayne Odesnik. Wagering on Betfair was unusually heavy on Melzer's routine three-set win. Odesnik says he doesn't know anything about it and would never do anything to "jeopardize my future." The Express reports, "Betfair said the odds on a straight sets victory tumbled from even to 1-5 in the run up to the match as 365,000 pounds were wagered."

—Curiously, the Mirror turns around and gives us a hot betting tip: "Get on Karol Beck at even to beat Nicolas Almagro today."

—You can also bet on whether Michelle Larcher de Brito "loosens her tonsils," as the Mirror puts it, at some point during the tournament. "Sporting Index," the paper reports, "is predicting a loudest grunt of 108 decibels over the fortnight (personal record: 109)."

—Andy Roddick is a tabloid movie critic. He saw The Hangover before his first-round match. "It was OK. I think it got hyped a little bit. It's not on a par with Wedding Crashers." Your standards are just too high, Andy.

—Strawberries and cream remains about $4.50, but a beer at Wimbledon is up to nearly $8. The tournament reports less revenue in its corporate hospitality services, but is making up for it with record ticket sales (the place is crowded). It expects to match or surpass last year's profit—"surplus" in the parlance of the All England Club—of 25 million pounds. In the Times, Wimbledon is declared recession-proof, a "golden-ticketed event," by one corporate analyst.

—Worst, and Best, Grammar in a Columnist's Headline: "Henman and Me Never Faced Pressure This Serious," by Greg Rusedski. No, it was just you Greg. You're Canadian.


You might think blogging from a tennis tournament is an easy gig, but there's the editing. You can only put so much in, and that's hard. Yesterday I had planned to do five "character studies" instead of three, but at 10:30 P.M., with the cleaning crew hovering around me, I had to leave two of them—Andy Murray and Fabrice Santoro—on the cutting-room floor (I'm sure they would be crushed if they knew). But I did watch their matches and make more than a few trips around the grounds. Here's some of what didn't make it in from those adventures.

—Nicolas Kiefer pretty much tanked the last two sets to Santoro. When he saw that a ball he'd hit was heading long—it wasn't hard to tell; they were very long—he would point to the ball kid and ask for the next ball before the last one had even landed. After one horrid miss, he nodded his head twice in a sarcastic pump-up venture. What made it all worse for the edgy German was that one fan at the top of the Court 3 bleachers insisted on continuing to cheer for him. "Come on, Nicolai!" he yelled after every point. As the sets wore on and Kiefer got even more listless, the cry grew more desperate, "Come on, Nicolai!" The words punctured the bored silence that enveloped the court. Finally, after Kiefer seemed to intentionally hit a ball 10 feet wide, his fan reached the end of his rope. "Kiefer!" he barked in a stern tone of admonishment and exasperation, "Come on now!" It sounded like he was giving him one more chance. Kiefer didn't take it.

—Seeing Santoro up close is to realize that he isn't just a Magician. He's a jock. The real reason he's still winning matches at 36 is that he can bang a 120 m.p.h. ace, he can take a first serve and knock it down the line for a winner, and he can step into a backhand at the baseline and hit it for an outright crosscourt winner. Of course, he can also end a point with a sharply sliced two-handed overhead. That's pretty magical.

—I made my first trip to Centre Court yesterday for the Murray-Kendrick match. Kendrick played good old American tennis: strong, sloppy. Watching, I began to think of Murray as having invented a new style of play. He doesn't counterpunch so much as he neutralizes. His returns, his slice backhand with its uncanny depth, his stab saves, his passing shots—they're all designed to neutralize whomever is on the other side of the net until that person screws up. Still, this wouldn't work for Murray if he couldn't also get free points with his serve.

—The roof is there, waiting. Odds have gone from 6-1 to 10-1 that it will be used at all during the fortnight. Yesterday, it looked like a blindingly white UFO had landed on the top of Centre Court to have a look at Murray's match. Talk about extra pressure. The poor kid was holding up the weight of two worlds. Seriously, the thing takes some getting used to: It's bulk is out of all proportion to the compact arena below it.

—This question tortures me: What is the right music to listen to at Wimbledon? Each day when I leave, I walk up Church Road, past the trademark black cabs and long lines of people hailing them, past red chimneys and trimmed trees and wobbling red buses. It feels like London, which makes me want to hear London albums—late-60s London albums, from the swinging mod version of the city that Americans like myself will never give up. The epitome of these in my mind are Something Else by the Kinks and The Who Sell Out. You walk out of the gates, put your IPod on, and you hear Ray Davies, with a hard, no-nonsense edge in his voice, tell the band to play "Nice and smooth." Then they launch into a raw story of class resentment, and oddly, class admiration, called "David Watts," about a much-envied big man on campus. 

"I wish I could be like David Watts." The sentiment transcends all nations.

—Each morning at 10 before noon, a pleasant-sounding gentleman begins to speak over the PA system around the grounds at Wimbledon. He tells us the weather forecast—more sun today; does it really rain here? (forget I asked that, I don't want to jinx anything)—and politely "points out" that spectators should be quiet during play. Today he finished his spiel with these words: "I'm delighted to tell you that, as always, the schedule contains many fascinating matches for your enjoyment."

I'll see if he's right. One thing that's fascinating me is, What the heck are Sam Querrey and Marin Cilic doing in Centre Court this afternoon? Does ESPN have that much juice? Otherwise, I'm looking to check out Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from up close in the Graveyard. Could he do some damage on grass? 


Posted by just horsen 06/24/2009 at 08:12 AM


Posted by MJ 06/24/2009 at 08:14 AM

first - we must be on the same schedule! :)

Posted by just horsen 06/24/2009 at 08:20 AM

I wouldn't put past ESPN to have so much juice that they can get Sam Querrey and Cilic on Centere Court. They will soon have more power in tennis then the ITF.

Posted by just horsen 06/24/2009 at 08:21 AM

Thanks for these updates Steve, I've really enjoyed them.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 06/24/2009 at 08:32 AM


it's not fair that a tennis piece should make me laugh SO much. :) I can't even pick out particular lines...too good.

The Kinks are perfect, LOL. (I love David Watts.)

Posted by dollymix 06/24/2009 at 09:59 AM

Two great albums there. Maybe add in some Hollies, "Would You Believe" probably.

Posted by Ade 06/24/2009 at 10:09 AM

Great takes on some of the actions at Wimby. I am currently staying a few days with my Mother for a visit and DIRECTV interactive is fantastic! Don't have to watch players grunting, shreiking, or players being televised just "because".

You have a choice of 5 matches, all live, no commercials, UNLESS you tune in to ESPN. But I'll pass on watching that channel. It is a real joy not to listen to some of the commentators on ESPN!!!

Posted by BillyBob 06/24/2009 at 10:11 AM

Not to ruffle feathers, but don't you need a Scottish band this year? How 'bout a little Belle & Sebastian? Or Camera Obscura? Hmm.. Murray might not be quite the "Twee" type, maybe the Proclaimers? Teenage Fanclub?

Posted by Master Ace 06/24/2009 at 10:19 AM

Still trying to figure out Querrey and Cilic on Centre myself.

Posted by PC 06/24/2009 at 10:59 AM

Maybe a little "Beggar's Banquet"? or "It's Only Rock and Roll"?

Early Who seems appropriate.

Maybe a little Live from BBC Led Zep?

Posted by Ruth 06/24/2009 at 11:01 AM

If ESPN has enough juice to get Wimbledon Live streams blocked for the USA, you can bet they have enough juice to get Querrey-Cilic on Center Court -- and at a convenient time, too. (None of that 7 am stuff. :))

Posted by Pspace 06/24/2009 at 12:37 PM

Great stuff, Steve.

Otherwise, I'm looking to check out Jo-Wilfried Tsonga from up close in the Graveyard

It seems like every time you want to watch a French player something intervenes. Simon lost every time you went to see him (if I recall). And, now Tsonga gets a walkover.

Posted by VC 06/24/2009 at 03:49 PM

Great description of Murray's game. The British press always succeed in getting me riled up.

Posted by VC 06/24/2009 at 04:05 PM

Good (and for a change, realistic) article.

Posted by Annie (Heavenly Creature will be missed like no other) 06/24/2009 at 04:44 PM

billybob: The Proclaimers! I would walk 500 miles... perfect.

Posted by parkp67 06/24/2009 at 05:51 PM

Hello Steve,

Thought I would delurk and say how much I am enjoying your posts!! Thank you!

I don't know what Sam and Marin were doing on Centre Court, but they played some awesome tennis and really rose to the occasion. I wanted both to win :-)

Posted by Atch 06/25/2009 at 02:21 AM

Love that the traditonally clay court players from Spain and South America perform better on grass than the British.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 06/25/2009 at 03:37 AM

Everyone knows that grass is just green clay now, surely? Since we can't use rain delays as an excuse and all that.

"class resentment, and oddly, class admiration"

Sort of thinking about that all day yesterday, and it may be odd, but I think it's also kind of a national characteristic.

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